Drake's 'Scorpion' Is Nielsen Music's Top Album Of 2018 in U.S., 'God's Plan' Most-Streamed Song

Plus: Album equivalent audio music consumption gained 23%, R&B/hip-hop continues dominance as most popular genre, and total on-demand streams grew 49%.

For the second time, Drake takes home the honor of having the most popular album of the year, according to Nielsen Music. His Scorpion release finishes 2018 as the year’s top album in the U.S., following the hip-hop king’s coronation in 2016 with Views. The data-tracking firm reports that Scorpion earned 3.905 million equivalent album units during the year, with 330,000 of that sum coming from album sales.

In 2017, Ed Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide) was named Nielsen Music’s top album.

Scorpion’s 3.905 million equivalent album units sum is a multi-metric consumption total, which includes album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and on-demand audio streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The multi-metric formula is also used to compile the weekly Billboard 200 albums chart, which ranks the most popular albums of the week in the U.S. (One TEA unit is equal to 10 tracks sold from an album. One SEA unit is equal to 1,250 paid subscription or 3,750 ad-supported on-demand audio streams of tracks from an album.)

Nielsen Music’s 2018 tracking year ran from Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019. Due to a quirk in the calendar, there were 53 weeks in 2018, instead of the usual 52. So, for 2018 volume comparisons to 2017, a corresponding 53-week period is used by Nielsen Music for 2017: Dec. 30, 2016 through Jan. 4, 2018. (Historical comparable references to volume in 2017 versus that of 2016 used the traditional comparable 52-week years for both, as stated in earlier Billboard stories.)

Numbers in this story are rounded. Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales and data in 1991 (so a reference in this story to the “Nielsen era” means from 1991 to the present).

Scorpion’s year-end finish as Nielsen Music’s top album was powered in large part by its streaming activity, as the set garnered 3.293 million SEA units (equaling 4.572 billion on-demand audio streams for the set’s songs in 2018). Scorpion is also the most-streamed album of 2018.

Scorpion marked Drake’s eighth No. 1 album on the weekly Billboard 200 chart, where it ruled for five weeks. In the set’s debut frame, it racked up a weekly record 745.9 million on-demand audio streams for its songs.

The set spun off three No. 1 hits on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 songs chart: “God’s Plan” (No. 1 for 11 weeks), “Nice for What” (No. 1 for eight weeks) and “In My Feelings” (No. 1 for 10 weeks). Drake’s combined total of 29 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 2018 was the most weeks atop the list in a year by any artist since the chart launched in 1958.

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2018 IN U.S., BY TOTAL EQUIVALENT ALBUM UNITS  
RankArtist, TitleTotal UnitsAlbum SalesTEA UnitsSEA Units
1Drake, Scorpion3,905,000330,000282,0003,293,000
2Post Malone, beerbongs & bentleys3,251,000374,000234,0002,643,000
3Soundtrack, The Greatest Showman2,499,0001,491,000187,000821,000
4Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy2,060,000222,000184,0001,654,000
5Travis Scott, Astroworld1,985,000464,00049,0001,471,000
6XXXTentacion, ?1,637,00094,00082,0001,461,000
7Migos, Culture II1,599,000115,00090,0001,393,000
8Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)1,481,000367,000212,000902,000
9Soundtrack, Black Panther: The Album1,459,000234,000104,0001,120,000
10Post Malone, Stoney1,388,00095,00084,0001,209,000
  

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

Post Malone captures two of the year’s top 10 albums, as his sophomore studio set Beerbongs & Bentleys, released in 2018, finishes at No. 2 (3.251 million units) while his debut studio album Stoney, released in 2016, is at No. 10 (1.388 million units). Post is the first act to have two of the year’s top 10 albums since Nielsen Music began tracking albums by overall consumption in 2014. Dating back to when the year’s overall top 10 albums were ranked solely by album sales (pre-2014), Malone is the first act to double up in the top 10 since 2012, when One Direction had the Nos. 3 and 5 biggest-selling titles (with Up All Night and Take Me Home, respectively).

The No. 3 album of 2018 is the multi-artist soundtrack to The Greatest Showman, with 2.499 million units. It is the highest-ranked year-end soundtrack since 2014, when Frozen was the year’s most-consumed album, with 4.471 million units earned that year. Notably, The Greatest Showman’s success is largely driven by album sales, and not streams, like Scorpion and Beerbongs. The Greatest Showman sold 1.491 million copies in 2018, and was the top-selling album of the year (more on that in a moment).

Hip-hop albums overwhelmingly dominate Nielsen Music’s year-end top 10 albums tally, as there are just two titles from outside the genre: the pop sets The Greatest Showman and Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide). A year ago, hip-hop held four of the top 10.

MUSIC CONSUMPTION CONTINUES TO GAIN: Album equivalent audio consumption in 2018 jumped 23 percent, rising to 618 million units (up from 501 million). Those figures combine album sales, TEA units and SEA units from on-demand audio streams.

The R&B/hip-hop genre dominated the year in consumption, as it did in 2017. In 2018, the genre equaled 25.6 percent of album equivalent audio consumption — the largest share of any genre in 2018.

"SHOWMAN" IS YEAR’S TOP-SELLING ALBUM: The soundtrack to the movie musical The Greatest Showman is 2018’s top-selling album, with 1.491 million copies sold. It was the only album to sell more than 1 million copies in 2018, and it marks the first time since Nielsen began tracking sales in 1991 that just one album sold more than a million in a calendar year. The prior fewest number of million sellers had occurred in 2017, when just two albums crossed the million mark: Taylor Swift’s reputation (1.9 million) and Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide) (1.1 million).

Showman also marks the first time the year’s top-selling album is a soundtrack since 2006, when the companion album to the Disney Channel TV musical movie High School Musical was tops with 3.719 million.

TOP 10 SELLING ALBUMS OF 2018 IN U.S. 
RankArtist, TitleSales
1Soundtrack, The Greatest Showman1,491,000
2Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (Soundtrack)704,000
3Eminem, Kamikaze493,000
4Travis Scott, Astroworld464,000
5Jason Aldean, Rearview Town463,000
6Justin Timberlake, Man of the Woods422,000
7Carrie Underwood, Cry Pretty401,000
8Post Malone, beerbongs & bentleys374,000
9Dave Matthews Band, Come Tomorrow369,000
10Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)367,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

ALBUM SALES FALL AGAIN: Overall album sales in 2018 fell by 17.7 percent to 141 million copies sold across all formats (CD, digital albums, vinyl LPs, cassettes, etc.). The decline is about on par with the volume drop in 2017 vs. 2016 (17.7 percent, to 169.15 million copies sold).

Scrolling back in time, album sales decreased 16.7 percent in 2016, 6 percent in 2015, 11 percent in 2014, 8 percent in 2013 and 4 percent in 2012.

Physical album sales (CD, vinyl, cassette, etc.) dropped by 15.8 percent to 88 million in 2018. CD album sales comprised 70.7 million of that sum (down 20.9 percent). The CD format continues to be the leader for album purchases, while the digital format is the runner-up with 53.4 million digital albums sold in 2018 (down 20.7 percent).

The biggest-selling digital album of 2018 is The Greatest Showman soundtrack, with 883,000 digital downloads sold. Rock music dominated album sales, as the genre comprised a whopping 37.4 percent of all album purchases in 2018.

TOP 10 SELLING DIGITAL ALBUMS OF 2018 IN U.S. 
RankArtist, TitleSales
1Soundtrack, The Greatest Showman883,000
2Travis Scott, Astroworld435,000
3Eminem, Kamikaze381,000
4Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (Soundtrack)299,000
5Drake, Scorpion256,000
6Post Malone, beerbongs & bentleys222,000
7Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy218,000
8Justin Timberlake, Man of the Woods183,000
9J. Cole, KOD180,000
10Lil Wayne, Tha Carter V173,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

HOT WAX: Vinyl album sales continue to be a bright spot among an otherwise bleak album sales picture. For the 13th consecutive year, vinyl album sales have grown to a new yearly high, rising to 16.8 million sold in 2018 (up 14.6 percent).

Vinyl LP sales accounted for 11.9 percent of all album sales in 2018. In 2017, the format comprised 6.5 percent of album sales. Impressively, vinyl album sales were a whopping 19.1 percent of all physical album sales in 2018 — a new Nielsen-era record share for the once-dormant format, up from 14 percent in 2017.

In total, 14 albums sold more than 50,000 copies on vinyl – up from just eight titles in 2017. Further, 79 titles exceeded 20,000 in LP sales in 2018, as compared to 77 in 2017, and 58 in 2016.

The top-selling vinyl album of 2018 is the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack, with 84,000 copies sold. It is followed by Michael Jackson’s Thriller (nearly 84,000), Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (77,000), The Beatles’ Abbey Road (76,000) and Prince and The Revolution’s soundtrack to Purple Rain (71,000).

Rock music is tops among vinyl album buyers, as the genre comprises the largest share of vinyl LP sales: 63 percent. In 2017, the genre amounted to 67 percent of LP sales, while in 2016 rock yielded 69 percent of LP sales.

Sales of older albums continue to drive the bulk of vinyl LP sales, as deep catalog titles (albums that are at least 36 months old) held a 65 percent share of vinyl album sales in 2018. The only title among 2018’s top 10 selling vinyl albums that is not a deep catalog title is Panic! at the Disco’s Pray for the Wicked (No. 10 with 59,000), which was released in June of 2018.

TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2018 IN U.S. 
RankArtist, TitleSales
1Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 184,000
2Michael Jackson, Thriller84,000
3Fleetwood Mac, Rumours77,000
4The Beatles, Abbey Road76,000
5Prince and The Revolution, Purple Rain (Soundtrack)71,000
6Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon67,000
7Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend: The Best Of…61,000
8Queen, Greatest Hits60,000
9Amy Winehouse, Back to Black59,000
10Panic! at the Disco, Pray for the Wicked59,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

"GOD" RULES STREAMING WORLD: Drake’s smash single “God’s Plan” finishes 2018 as the most-streamed song of the year, as it accumulated 1.566 billion on-demand audio and video streams. It was one of four titles to surpass 1 billion streams in 2018, up from just one billion-streamer in 2017.

The top 10 most-streamed songs of 2018 were unsurprisingly dominated by hip-hop titles, with only Sheeran’s “Perfect” being the non-hip-hop effort in the region (at No. 9, with 797.27 million streams).

“God’s Plan” was also the most-streamed song in terms of audio-only on-demand streams (918.87 million) and video-only on-demand streams (647.84 million). Overall on-demand streams (audio and video combined) rose 42.6 percent in 2018 to 901 billion. On-demand audio streams vaulted 49 percent to 611 billion, while on-demand video streams surged 30 percent to 290 billion.

The R&B/hip-hop genre led the way in total on-demand streaming, with 29.7 percent of all streams in 2018. The second-largest genre was rock music, with 14.2 percent.

TOP 10 MOST STREAMED SONGS OF 2018 IN U.S., ON-DEMAND AUDIO & VIDEO COMBINED
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Drake, "God's Plan"1,565,711,000
2Juice WRLD, "Lucid Dreams"1,107,289,000
3Drake, "In My Feelings"1,100,534,000
4XXXTentacion, "Sad!"1,026,294,000
5Post Malone featuring Ty Dolla $ign, "Psycho"924,496,000
6Post Malone featuring 21 Savage, "Rockstar"905,440,000
7Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It"873,494,000
8Drake, "Nice for What"844,403,000
9Ed Sheeran, "Perfect"797,274,000
10BlocBoy JB featuring Drake, "Look Alive"766,073,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

TOP 10 ON-DEMAND STREAMS OF 2018 IN U.S., AUDIO-ONLY
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Drake, "God's Plan"917,872,000
2Post Malone featuring Ty Dolla $ign, "Psycho"594,516,000
3Drake, "Nice for What"576,214,000
4Juice WRLD, "Lucid Dreams"572,972,000
5XXXTentacion, "Sad!"565,324,000
6Post Malone featuring 21 Savage, "Rockstar"525,971,000
7Drake, "In My Feelings"522,591,000
8BlocBoy JB featuring Drake, "Look Alive"522,155,000
9Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It"508,202,000
10Travis Scott, "Sicko Mode"479,509,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

TOP 10 ON-DEMAND STREAMS OF 2018 IN U.S., VIDEO-ONLY 
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Drake, "God's Plan"647,839,000
2Drake, "In My Feelings"577,943,000
3Juice WRLD, "Lucid Dreams"534,317,000
4XXXTentacion, "Sad!"460,970,000
5Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"422,743,000
6Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B, "Girls Like You"415,292,000
7Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, "Havana"399,510,000
8Ella Mai, "Boo'd Up"398,445,000
9Post Malone featuring 21 Savage, "Rockstar"379,468,000
10Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It"365,292,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

"PERFECT" LEADS DIGITAL SONGS ROUNDUP: As consumers increasingly adapt to using streaming services to enjoy music instead of buying individual songs and albums, music sales naturally decrease. Digital song sales are no exception, as overall sales fell 27.2 percent in 2018 to 412 million. It marks the sixth year in a row of declines for the format.

The top-selling digital song of 2018 is Sheeran’s “Perfect,” with 1.3 million sold, followed by two more million sellers: Drake’s “God’s Plan” (1.06 million) and Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” (1.04 million).

For the first time since 2006, there were no songs that sold 2 million downloads in a calendar year. A year ago, there was just one: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” featuring Justin Bieber, with 2.69 million. (Nielsen Music began tracking digital song sales in 2003.) Further, in 2018, there were only three million-sellers, down from 14 in 2017.

From 2004 through 2012, digital song sales grew on a yearly basis. The high-water mark for the format’s sales was in 2012, when 1.336 billion songs were sold.

TOP 10 SELLING DIGITAL SONGS OF 2018 IN U.S. 
RankArtist, TitleSales
1Ed Sheeran, "Perfect"1,300,000
2Drake, "God's Plan"1,056,000
3Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, "Meant to Be"1,042,000
4Maroon 5, "Girls Like You"896,000
5Imagine Dragons, "Whatever It Takes"849,000
6Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, "I Like It"844,000
7Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, "Havana"828,000
8Imagine Dragons, "Thunder"772,000
9Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, "The Middle"753,000
10Drake, "In My Feelings"708,000
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.

SHEERAN IS RADIO’S FAVORITE, AGAIN: For the second year in a row, Sheeran has the most-heard song on the radio. “Perfect” was tops in 2018, with 3.988 billion audience impressions earned. In 2017, Sheeran’s “Shape of You” was the most-heard song, with 5.847 billion impressions.

“Perfect” spent nine weeks atop Billboard’s all-genre Radio Songs chart and reached No. 1 on the Pop Songs, Adult Pop Songs and Adult Contemporary airplay charts.

TOP 10 RADIO SONGS OF 2018 IN U.S. (RANKED BY AUDIENCE IMPRESSIONS)
RankArtist, TitleAudience Impressions
1Ed Sheeran, "Perfect"3.988 billion
2Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line, "Meant to Be"3.533 billion
3Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, "The Middle"3.505 billion
4Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B, "Girls Like You"3.079 billion
5Dua Lipa, "New Rules"2.841 billion
6Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug, "Havana"2.814 billion
7Camila Cabello, "Never Be the Same"2.747 billion
8Drake, "God's Plan"2.630 billion
9MAX, "Lights Down Low"2.616 billion
10Taylor Swift, "Delicate"2.509 billion
 

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2019.